Ex-NHL referee will blow whistle on air travel complaints

More and more Canadians are registering official complaints about air travel with the Canadian Transportation Agency. The number of complaints for the first six months of 2000 is almost three times as high as it was last year.

As a result, Transport Minister David Collenette has made a number of appointments to deal with the restructuring of the airline industry. Included among them is a former NHL referee who will examine Canadians' complaints about air travel.

Bruce Hood pulled out a whistle at a news conference in Ottawa, just like the one he used as an NHL referee for more than 20 years.

All those years of prying apart goons could come in handy. Hood's new job will be to stand between livid Canadian travellers and the air carriers, notably Air Canada.

Hood also ran a travel agency.

But whether it's meals of pretzels, vanishing luggage, or the story of an elderly woman who was booted off a plane last winter for refusing to sit near a bathroom, the fact is the number of complaints has tripled.

Collenette himself isn't impressed with the service.

"I know with the kind of problems that I have, and I travel every week," he said. "Air Canada knows this can't go on forever."

Collenette also appointed Debra Ward, a respected tourism industry professional, to monitor airline restructuring.

Since Air Canada took over Canadian Airlines, Collenette says, the transition hasn't gone very smoothly. There have been embarrassing incidents for the airline.

Collenette says Hood, the new complaints commissioner, can threaten to expose lousy service.

"One of the greatest powers over and above the statutory powers, is the power of embarrassment. The fact is that Air Canada has just had its image sullied in the last three months because of certain ways that this has gone on," said the minister.

While Collenette was critical of Air Canada, he pointed out that there were also complaints against smaller airlines, and he asked Canadians to be patient.

The minister predicts the transition in the industry will continue to be turbulent for another year. But at least now, he says, Canadians have someone to turn to who can blow the whistle on shoddy air travel.